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Scotland becomes first country in the world to make menstrual products free

By:
Gurshabad Kang (@gurshabadkang)

This week, Scotland became the first nation to pass a bill that instates free and universal access to menstrual products in all public facilities.

The bill was passed unanimously, marking an extremely momentous victory in the fight against period poverty.

Period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and/or waste management.

In many countries around the world, including the US, menstrual products are considered "luxury items" and are taxed accordingly. Canada is globally considered to be a progressive nation in this regard, yet this tax was only recently eliminated in 2015. 

On average, a Canadian woman spends up to $6000 on menstrual hygiene products in her lifetime. However, this number is more likely close to $17,000 if pain management and other medications are included. \

These numbers may not seem that significant when seen through a privileged lens, but they are a huge factor for low-income households.

Menstrual products are not luxury; they are essential to health management because menstruation is not a choice.

Moreover, the monetary value of menstrual products is not the only consideration for these laws. They create conversation in order to de-stigmatize and culturally normalize menstruation, while empowering women with respect and dignity.

Monica Lennon, the lawmaker who introduced the bill last year, said the decision was "a signal to the world that free universal access to period products can be achieved."

It's easy to imagine accessibility in the way we experience it first-hand. Many of us can easily choose from a number of stores and purchase from a range of menstrual products. 

However, this privilege is not afforded to the majority of the women who do not live in urbanized cities.

It is difficult to imagine the hardships many women face living in impoverished and underdeveloped countries. Menstruation is stigmatized all over the world, and in some places, women are deemed impure and banished while on their periods. 

In other places, women are financially dependent on male counterparts who do not prioritize menstrual health. Period shame holds back women from working and young girls have to miss school and other activities to stay at home. 

For example, in India, only 12% of women have access to sanitary products; the rest struggle to improvise, using old newspapers, rags and sawdust. The Indian ministry of health estimates that 70% of women are at risk of severe infection because of this. One in 53 women in India will be diagnosed with cervical cancer in her lifetime, compared with one in 135 in the UK.

The socioeconomic and cultural implications associated with periods are far more important considerations than money when discussing period poverty. Accessibility is only half the battle, but we have to start somewhere. Making products more accessible empowers women to take charge of their own health and makes space to tackle misconceptions and stigma, instead of worrying how they will survive their cycles.

There is an abundance of laws all over the world that decrease women's autonomy over their own bodies. Governments have no issues passing bills that take away reproductive rights, but when it comes to enhancing women's health, the laws are scarce.

This law is one of the first that is not trying to control women's reproduction, but rather empowering them with resources. It is a catalyst for actual legislative change regarding women's health, an issue that is recognized but always on the back burner. 

It pushes other progressive countries to see the possibility and follow in Scotland's footsteps. Hopefully, with strong momentum, eventually all countries will follow, so that women will no longer have to suffer for their biology.

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